Sunday, December 21, 2008


Before I go listing my "best of 2008" music (that will probably happen next week), I'd like to point out some bands and music I missed during the last 15-20 years, and have only gotten on the ball and discovered this year! Much of the following music been "heavy" in my CD rotation the past 3-4 months.


Start with "Loveless" (1991). This CD is considered a highly-influential classic. Brian Eno one referred to the music as "vague", and that might be an apt description. At first listen, it may seem like little more than a thick wall of sound, but the more I listen the more it is like the peeling away layers of a musical onion to reveal what lies beneath rock music itself. This is mind-expanding music for interstellar travel. Guitarist and arranger Kevin Shields must be playing some kind of instrument with rubber bands for strings. Highly-crafted, dense, incredible stuff. If you haven't heard anything from this disc, I would suggest key tracks as "Soon" and "I Only Said". I have had their "Isn't Anytyhing" (1988) for some time now but was not nearly as impressed with it. "Loveless" is the place to start with this band, whose recorded output apparently only includes these two discs plus the "Tremeloe" and "Glider" EPs.


Active from 1990 to 2000 and fronted by Rob Dickinson, the cousin of Iron Maiden's frontman Bruce Dickinson, Catherine Wheel didn't sound at all like Bruce's group. Pegged as a "shoegazer" band by media critics who couldn't figure out how to describe them, CW played a thick, muscular, melodic brand of music that relied on heavy power chords and guitar effects more than on flashy solos. I believe Dickinson is a great vocalist. He and Brian Futter handled the guitarwork, with Futter doing much of the sonic work.

Ferment (1992) was the debut album, full of youthful sonic joys. The epic "Black Metallic", perhaps their best-known song, is on this CD. This one also includes other goodies such as "I Want to Touch You", "Balloon" and "Salt". Ethereal washes of noise abound!

Next came "Chrome" (1993), more muscular and aggressive. The album's third tune "Crank" is one of my CW favorites. The guitar squalls in "Ursa Major Space Station" are practically to die for... that song approaches "prog-rock" more than just about any of their other tracks. The album's closer, "Show Me Mary" is almost out of place due to it's Brit-Pop style, but the signature guitar sound is still there. Other standout tracks on this one include "The Nude" and "I Confess". And "Kill Rhythm" is a killer of an album opener.

The third Catherine Wheel CD is "Happy Days" (1995). Standout tracks include "Heal", "Judy Staring at the Sun" (Tanya Donnelly does guest vocals on this song) and the nicely-titled "Eat My Dust You Insensitive F***". This time the "shoegaze" sound is toned down a bit, to the point where things almost (but not quite) sound more stripped-down and clean, almost verging on "metal" at times.

"Adam and Eve" was released in 1997. Sadly, this one is no longer in print in the U.S. It received lots of critical acclaim upon its release, and I would have to say it is the most "accessible" of all the Catherine Wheel CDs. The Big Takeover magazine named this album #1 of 1997, ahead of Radiohead's "O.K. Computer". It veers from pop bombast ("Delicious", "Phantom of the American Mother") to driving hard rock "shoegaze" ("Broken Nose") to flat-out rock ("Satellite") to a late-period Talk Talk-style excursion ("Thunderhead"). While it may be all over the map musically, "Adam and Eve" is as much a nod to the band's beginnings as it is a showcase of their undeniable talents. It is an indicator of what might have been. Some CW hardcores might argue this is the band's best album, and possibly their last good one. Find this album if you can. I bought my copy in used condition from an private seller for something like eight bucks... easily worth every cent.

1998 saw the release of "Like Cats and Dogs", a collection of singles and B-Sides. This disc shows a different side of the band, in that here you can hear slower, quieter material. As I understand it, the songs on "Cats and Dogs" are more from the band's mid-late period and some were recorded during the making of "Adam and Eve". This one includes a very nice remake of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", and a version of "Heal" that I think is superior to the one from "Happy Days" (this version is called "Heal2").

The finale is "Wishville", from 2000. This one was released in the U.S. on Columbia Records, the band had a new bassist, and they changed their name to THE Catherine Wheel. The talent is all still there, but the album seems a bit lackluster compared to previous efforts. Then again, that could be just because longtime fans of the band got accustomed to all the heavier-duty testosterone in the earlier CW music; I think this album has a bit less of that, but I still like it. My favorite track on this one is by far and away "What We Want to Believe In", a slow-mid tempo stoner anthem with a great sing-along chorus and chime-y guitarwork.
Catherine Wheel used producer Tim Friese-Greene on several of their albums. He is rightly noted as one of the major helpers for Talk Talk, particularly in that band's marvelous mid-to-later period. He added keyboards where needed for CW, and helped guide the band's direction. Also, Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis did some very nice album art for CW. If you take a listen to this band, particularly to "Adam and Eve", you may come to realize that before there was Coldplay, there was Catherine Wheel. There may be immediately noticeable similarities, there may not... but I think CW paved the way for a lot of other bands we take for granted in the early 21st century.

Unlike with My Bloody Valentine and Catherine Wheel, for which I have acquired most of their recorded output during the past year, I am still getting started with Swervedriver. Singer Adam Franklin and this band are another highly-influential British guitar-driven group from the 90s, but they are "not just another band" by any means; and I believe they were another band unfairly pegged as "shoegazers". One reviewer says this about Swervedriver: "Either you haven't heard them or you love them." Now that I have heard them... well... I love 'em! Despite their troubles with being dropped by labels and dealing with other obstackes, they managed to put out a very high-quality catalog of material. I have to believe they were 10-15 years ahead of their time.
I have not yet heard their first album, "Raise" but I plan to hear it soon. Same with a later disc called "99th Dream" and their collection called "Juggernaut Rides", which has some rarities and unrleased stuff.
My 2008 introduction to Swervedriver was 1993's "Mezcal Head". The band's sound on this album was described by one reviewer as "sweeping, panoramic"guitar rock, and also as "turbulent". "Mezcal Head" is often described as being the ultimate desert freeway soundtrack. Key songs are "Duel", "Blowin' Cool", "A Change is Gonna Come", "Girl on a Motorbike" and "Never Lose That Feeling". If you like power chords, propulsive drumming, precision bass playing, good vocals... it's all here. Like with Catherine Wheel, I can't understand how Sweredriver did not catch on more here in the U.S.

During this past year I also picked up Swervedriver's "Ejector Seat Reservation" (1995). This time around they expanded their sound a bit. Supposedly they were a bit disappointed or frustrated that listeners assumed they were American, so they threw some British lyrical references in for this album. They also added some acoustic guitars and some nice atmospheric arrangements. My favorite tracks on this CD are the title track, "Bring Me the Head of the Fortune Teller", "The Other Jesus", and "Bubbling Up".

Fellow blogger Dave Splash ("The Dark Stuff", please see my links section) features Swervedriver and Adam Franklin on one of the Dark Stuff podcasts. Dave's song selection is a good introduction to this group's music, and it's a great place to find out more about them.

SLOWDIVE - I have only the "Souvlaki" CD by this band, so far. On this CD they produced a breathy, ethereal melodic sound. Very dreamy stuff, very relaxing. Slowdive was one of the bands on the roster of the legendary British indie Creation Records label, along with such other excellent bands as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Swervedriver, Teenage Fanclub, Super Furry Animals, Oasis and The Jesus and Mary Chain. To learn more about Creation, you can go to .

RIDE - My first and only disc of theirs (so far) is "Nowhere" (1990), the one that is probably their best-known. Their most-referenced song from this disc is probably "Vapour Trail"; I think the last 60 to 90 seconds of this one is some of the finest music recorded in the last 20 years. Another goodie from this CD is "Dreams Burn Down". Ride was active from 1988 to 1996. Their bassist Andy Bell went on to play for Oasis after Ride dissolved.
THE CHURCH - I also rediscovered this Australian band. I picked up a couple of pretty good albums of theirs ("The Blurred Crusade"and "Heyday" from 1982 and 1986 respectively) that came prior to their zenith period during the time of 1988's "Starfish", which features the classic track "Under the Milky Way", as well as other goodies such as "Reptile", "Antenna", "Spark" and "Hotel Womb". "Gold Afternoon Fix" (1990) was the follow-up to "Starfish", and the band supposedly didn't like the way this one turned out. I think it still has some great songs and guitarwork; some of my favorites here are "Russian Autumn Heart", "You're Still Beautiful" and "Metropolis". "Priest=Aura" was released in 1992 and is considered by some to be their best album. It is chock full of multiple layers of sound, almost orchestral at times. On this one, the guitarwork is more complex, and the Wikipedia article about The Church suggests that the introduction of white noise in places may have been influenced by the music of My Bloody Valentine. However, the biggest influence on "Priest=Aura" may have been drugs, in this case primarily opium! This music tends toward a darker, more mysterious mood. After "Priest" the band went into a decline but has since regrouped itself somewhat, continuing to release recordings which sound like the product of contented people, like they are just making records solely for their own entertainment and for their fanbase. One of their more recent releases (1999) called "A Box of Birds" is a collection of cover versions, in which they perform songs from other bands but make them their own.
If you are unfamiliar with The Church, their retrospective CD "Under The Milky Way" is a great place to start. Unlike many "best of" discs, I think this one definitely contains many of their best songs.
Well, time to go shovel my sidewalk... about 10 new inches of snow awaits. But this has been a fun way to procrastinate for an hour or two! Heh!
Happy listening!


Blogger J. Marquis said...

Excellent piece, Snave. You are truly King of the Shoegazers!

3:57 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Why thank you, J.!

I'm awfully glad I discovered this "genre", although I don't find that the bands I talk about here sound all that similar to one another.

The MBV, CW and Swervedriver are probably classifiable as British "stoner" music more than anything, but however it's classified, this kind of sound drives me!

Now if only some of these defunct bands would reunite and appear at the Sasquatch music festival this May... !

4:09 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

Ye gads, I thought I was the only person who'd heard of The Church!

10:29 AM  
Blogger Demeur said...

Wow you lost me after Iron Maden. I guess I'm stuck on the old standards like Pink Floyd, Moody Blues and Starship. Mostly jazz now.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Mauigirl said...

I think your "older" music must be what I call "modern" music because I'm not familiar with these groups. Love the album covers, especially Catherine Wheel. Will take a listen and see what it's all like!

8:26 PM  

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